For the week ending 2 January 2021 / 18 Tevet 5781

Parashat Vayechi

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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After 17 years in Egypt, Yaakov senses his days drawing to a close and summons Yosef. He has Yosef swear to bury him in the Machpela Cave, the burial place of Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka.

Yaakov falls ill and Yosef brings to him his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov elevates Ephraim and Menashe to the status of his own sons, thus giving Yosef a double portion that removes the status of firstborn from Reuven. As Yaakov is blind from old age, Yosef leads his sons close to their grandfather. Yaakov kisses and hugs them. He did not think he would see his son Yosef again, let alone Yosef's children. Yaakov begins to bless them, giving precedence to Ephraim, the younger — but Yosef interrupts him and indicates that Menashe is the elder. Yaakov explains that he intends to bless Ephraim with his strong hand because Yehoshua will descend from him, and Yehoshua will be both the conqueror of Eretz Yisrael an d the teacher of Torah to the Jewish People.

Yaakov summons the rest of his sons in order to bless them as well. Yaakov's blessing reflects the unique character and ability of each tribe, directing each one in its unique mission in serving Hashem.

Yaakov passes from this world at age 147. A tremendous procession accompanies his funeral cortege up from Egypt to his resting place in the Cave of Machpela in Chevron. After Yaakov's passing, the brothers are concerned that Yosef will now take revenge on them. Yosef reassures them, even promising to support them and their families. Yosef then lives out the rest of his years in Egypt, seeing Ephraim's great-grandchildren. Before his death, Yosef foretells to his brothers that Hashem will redeem them from Egypt. He makes them swear to bring his bones out of Egypt with them at that time. Yosef passes away at the age of 110 and is embalmed. Thus ends Sefer Bereishet, the first of the five Books of the Torah. Chazak!


Striving and Thriving

“And he lived…”(47:28)

The national census for Jews living in Israel was approximately 6,700,000 in 2019. That of the United States was approximately 6,543,820 in 2018. If you add all the other places in the Diaspora, from France with around 450,000 Jews, to El Salvador, or North Macedonia, or the Philippines, who have around 100 Jews, and factor in the Israeli birth rate together with the increase in aliya to Israel from places like France — the Jewish population of the Land of Israel will exceed that of the Diaspora in the foreseeable future. This will trigger a number of halachic events and laws that have not occurred for nearly two thousand years.

We are coming to the end of our longest exile. The story of the Jewish People in the Diaspora has not been one of unremitting misery, despite horrific and terrible events. For much of our time in exile, we have managed to live and prosper without losing our identity among our hosts. Where did this ability come from?

Yaakov's intention when he came down to Egypt was only to “sojourn” — not to live there permanently. However,“And he lived,” the beginning of this week's Torah portion, tells us that Hashem told Yaakov to live out the rest of his life there. Also, the verb “to live” here suggests that Yaakov finally found peace in Egypt. At the end of his difficult life, he finally found tranquility. But didn't the Torah implicitly criticize Yaakov for wanting to dwell in tranquility, as we see at the beginning of the Torah portion of Vayeshev?

"The actions of the Patriarchs are a sign to their children."

Yaakov's living and thriving in happiness in exile was a sign for the generations that you can live — and prosper — even in exile, by the diligent learning and the inspired living of the Torah, the qualities epitomized by Yaakov.

  • Sources: Abarbanel, Akeidah, ArtScroll Chumash - Stone Edition

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